Serious Themes Behind Black Mirror’s ‘White Bear’

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has raised interesting and scary questions about the state of our society and its future from its very first episode in December 2011. This week’s White Bear’ episode two of series two was one of the most chilling yet. [Spoilers!] Victoria is a convicted child killer who is kept in White Bear Justice Park, an eerie place in which mob justice becomes entertainment. In the absence of her fiancée, collaborator in the act who managed to kill himself in his prison cell, the population takes great pleasure in making Victoria live a horrific day over and over again in which she experiences voyeurs stuck behind mobile screens and “murders” first-hand, before being confronted with the cold hard truth about herself in front of a studio audience and being made to forget everything again in order for the Justice Park to repeat the process the next day.

Ultimately, Brooker is bringing up questions of how we deal with criminals combined with the Big Brother culture of watching and being involved with someone’s every move. Both notions are essential to our daily lives, as there are injustices committed every single day that are often not correctly dealt with, leading to distress for innocent people.

In its most serious sense, the criminality idea has to be considered in terms of the death penalty versus prison sentences versus whatever else the state could possibly do with convicts. The justice shown in this episode is sick, but so is what Victoria did to the child, Jemima. However, with the mob mentality clearly going too far, the audience and participants are stooping- not to Victoria’s criminal level but still unforgivably; there needs to be a clear divide between criminals and innocent, everyday people, and if this starts to become blurred then we gain even less superiority over those whom we need to rise above.

Equally, it is ridiculous that a country as civilised as the USA still carries the death penalty in 33 states. Despite several prominent and controversial cases in which new evidence was provided that showed the potential innocence of someone on death row, this powerful and very developed country can’t seem to agree within itself that killing someone for whose case you may not know the whole story is obviously bad and inhumane. Prison sentences separate criminals from the rest of society, whilst letting them live a potentially miserable life and allowing them plenty of time to learn what the consequences of the actions, instead of killing someone painlessly who may want to escape from a regretful and horrible life anyway. Prison allows flexibility of punishments, as well as the opportunity to get a life back if evidence is discovered to prove someone’s innocence.

The latter Big Brother idea affects our everyday interactions and could soon take over our lives, even leading to the extreme pretend version of Victoria’s day, with people walking around constantly with phones in front of their faces. There is nothing to say that if this becomes a real endemic – as it already has at most gigs and concerts- it could not extend to giving people this aspect of detachment from what they’re watching, which would inevitably lead to an inability to interject in a real life situation. Although it is an acted tool used within the Justice Park, the Black Mirror audience isn’t aware of this for the first 20 minutes of the show, meaning that we have to think of it in terms of our real life future, which is emphasised later on as even when we know that it isn’t real, we know that the “justice creators” deem this a viable future version of life.

In reality, we could be considered as already heading down this path, whether in a short or long term sense. Screens of every sort- phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, etc- are dominating our lives more than ever and it can be hard to determine an appropriate barrier between them and our real interactions. It is also essential that we continue to keep our prison sentences civilised, with the death penalty continually being tackled in developing countries that can make themselves more dignified by raising themselves above the rapists and killers of their nations.

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